What does 😊 🍾 👯 mean to you?
In a recent case involving a landlord and two potential renters, an Israeli judge ruled that emojis are evidence of intent. Which means that to a couple in Israel, those little emojis meant a payment of $2,200 for an apartment they didn’t rent.
What happened is this: The landlord and the couple exchanged texts for several days. Thinking an agreement was in the works, the landlord took down an ad for the space. The couple then stopped returning messages, and the landlord sued, saying he’d relied on their messages as an indication that the deal was as good as done.
The judge agreed in part because of the emojis used in this message:
“Good morning 😊 interested in the house 💃🏼 👯 ✌ 🎐 🐿 🍾 just need to discuss the details … When’s a good time for you?”
The judge didn’t say the emojis equalled a “binding agreement,” but awarded the landlord $2,200 because…
“…the sent symbols support the conclusion that the defendants acted in bad faith. Indeed, this negotiation’s parties’ ways of expression may take on different forms, and today, in modern times, the use of the “emoji” icons may also have a meaning that indicates the good faith of the side to the negotiations. The [emoji laden] text message sent by Defendant 2 on June 5, 2016, was accompanied by quite a few symbols, as mentioned. These included a “smiley”, a bottle of champagne, dancing figures and more. These icons convey great optimism. Although this message did not constitute a binding contract between the parties, this message naturally led to the Plaintiff’s great reliance on the defendants’ desire to rent his apartment.
Bradley Shear, a lawyer with expertise in social media law, doesn’t think this kind of judgment would happen in an American court. Sure, the emojis seem positive, but the contract clearly still had to be worked out, and if the client wasn’t a fan of something in that contract they would have a right not to sign anything.
But interpreting emojis in court, he says, is not something that’s likely to go away, and neither is the complexity therein.
“There’s all these different variations, and so what one emoji may mean to one person may mean something slightly different to another,” Shear said.
Some emojis are a bit more straightforward. In 2015, a New York City teenager was arrested for making terroristic threats after posting a Facebook status with a gun emoji pointed at an emoji of a police officer. But even that case is open to some interpretation. Sure, a gun pointed at anything has a more defined meaning than an emoji of a dancer, but it’s more complicated to differentiate a “true threat” from something a 17-year-old put up as a kind of sick joke.
Courts will probably have to deal with this question of interpretation for years to come.
The couple, by the way, reportedly wound up renting a different apartment. They checked out the initial one, but found it to be unsatisfactory.